Mention estate planning to anyone and most likely they will associate it with avoiding probate. Probate is the legal process of ‘settling’ the estate of a deceased person, and it can take months, even years, for more complex estates. In Colorado, the average estate spends 9-24 months in probate. There are actually three different types of probate proceedings in Colorado:
- A small estate proceeding for estates valued at under $50,000 that have no real property,
- An informal proceeding for uncontested estates, and
- A formal proceeding for contested estates and those with invalid or questionable wills.
So why would this process take a year or more? There are several tasks that take place during probate, and some of them require waiting times, legal notifications and property inventories. For example, in a typical probate proceeding, the following will take place:
- Opening a bank account for the estate so bills can be paid;
- Identifying the deceased’s creditors, locating them and notifying them of the death;
- Identifying heirs and beneficiaries, locating them and notifying them of the death;
- Identifying and inventorying the property that was owned by the deceased;
- Filing a final tax return for the estate and paying any estate taxes that may be owed;
- Paying off creditors;
- Distributing property to heirs according to the state law if there was no will or beneficiaries that are named within a will.
As you can see, these tasks will not only take time, but they are extremely detail oriented. There are a number of documents that must be filed with the probate court, many of which relate to the above tasks. The process is not horrible, but you must be patient. A probate attorney can help you through this process, as well as help you put together an estate plan that will allow your property to avoid probate if you would prefer.